The phone rings in an old building in Groves, Texas, where a legendary business is nearly forgotten. But no one is there to answer the call. Charlie Holder hangs up and dials another number. He finally reaches Jim “Cowboy” Fernandez, one of the creators of Yentzen calls and founder of its successor company, Sure-Shot Game Calls.
Along with George Yentzen, Cowboy Fernandez invented and patented the double reed duck call in Nederland, Texas in the 1950s. That development, contrived on a band saw on Yentzen’s back porch, set the standard for calls today. After Yentzen passed away in 1957, Cowboy–who was then Yentzen’s assistant–took the reins on what would become the most eminent call-making company over the course of the next 20 years.
He began by making calls in his garage while also using them in contests. Success was not immediate; however, persistence eventually paid off. In 1959, Cowboy won the Gulf Coast Championship, the Texas Open and the regional in Beaumont. Later that year, he won the World Championship in Stuttgart, Arkansas, establishing the company’s name and bringing Yentzen calls to the forefront of the outdoor industry.
With his new reputation as a renowned duck caller, he began selling more and more calls. The first year, he made 55 and sold them all. The year after, it was 555. Each one he made by hand.
By 1960, his Yentzen calls dominated the market. Cowboy had won the International three times. He won the Texas Open and Beaumont several more times. Decades rolled by and the Yentzen was still the apex of duck calls.
But as good things in life, love, and business sometimes do, Cowboy’s company hit a wall. The patent ran out and double reed calls began to saturate the market. Family members fell ill. Cowboy no longer had the stamina to run the business. He had built something great, made a footprint in this world that will endure the test of time; he just couldn’t provide the momentum needed to stay ahead. He refused to sell out to a competitor, nor did he want to leave the company to a family member. Sure-Shot’s future looked grim.
Then, Charlie Holder made the phone call that would ultimately revive a legacy. He and Cowboy were able to reach an agreement, and the company changed hands. In September 2011, one of the nation’s oldest call makers made a small step towards the future.
Mr. Holder, who hosted a radio show (where Cowboy, a longtime idol, was a guest 15 years ago) and then a TV show for Gander Mountain, grew up around Sure-Shot calls.
“I’ve used them my whole life for ducks and deer. My family used those calls,” he said. “I knew this company had a great name, so I brought on some professionals to help get it going again. We have countless ads out in national publications, a brand new website, and we’re reintroducing the Yentzen Classic, called the Model 501. And it will be completely rebranded so the value on the original calls made in the 1960s will not diminish.” The 501 sells for $51.98.
To Sure-Shot, his approach is fresh. Each call you’ll find in a retail store has a QR code on the box. Scan the code and you’re taken into the virtual world where a 30-second, high-definition YouTube clip of Cowboy Fernandez will pop up. There, Cowboy will show you how to use the call you’ve chosen. This is innovation at its finest.
Today, the phone rings down in Groves, Texas and the call is answered. Activity is evident in the background. Mr. Holder and his employees are looking towards the future without losing sight of their past. They owe it to the legacy of a couple of visionaries who just liked to hunt. And they will do so one call at a time.
Today, Holder and his team of employees are not only making duck and goose calls, but turkey, deer, predator, and small game calls. For more information on the Yentzen and Sure-Shot Game Calls, please visit their website at www.sureshotgamecalls.com. To say the very least, they are putting tradition back on the map.
Image by Hunter Worth